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MUSIC

Facing the Music

Who deserves to win at the Junos

By Andre Mayer
March 31, 2006

Bedouin Soundclash. Photo Dustin Rabin. Courtesy Stomp Records Canada.
Bedouin Soundclash. Photo Dustin Rabin. Courtesy Stomp Records Canada.

Like most music ceremonies, Canada’s Juno Awards are perpetually conflicted, unsure whether to honour musicians on the basis of sales or artistic merit (recognizing that the two sometimes converge). While the nominee lists aren’t always spot-on, the spectacle — which takes place in Halifax this Sunday — is a reliable gauge of Canadian talent. Here, CBC Arts Online pinpoints the deserving winners in the major Juno pop categories.

 

Category: Single of the year

Nominees:
When the Night Feels My Song, Bedouin Soundclash
Home, Michael Bublé
Inside and Out, Feist
Man I Used To Be, K-Os
Photograph, Nickelback

Our take: There’s no denying that Nickelback’s Photograph dominated commercial radio this year, but can anyone make a genuine case for single of the year? By any measure, Photograph is a triumph of wrenching emotion rather than songcraft. The presence of singer Leslie Feist and rapper K-Os on this short list is evidence that if you produce a critically and commercially triumphant album, you can count on being summoned to at least two consecutive Junos. (Feist’s Let It Die and K-Os’s Joyful Rebellion were both released in 2004.) Feist, a latter-day Françoise Hardy, scored two Junos last year, including new artist of the year; K-Os nabbed three, including single of the year (for Crabbuckit). While Inside and Out and Man I Used to Be are both bulletproof hits, it seems gratuitous to reward two already highly decorated performers. Michael Bublé’s Home is a fine swath of aural wallpaper — and for that reason is more likely to stick to walls than your brain. If anyone has earned this nom, it’s Toronto’s Bedouin Soundclash, who were little more than a whispered promise prior to ’05. When the Night Feels My Song is a fine exemplar of the group’s rock-reggae hybrid. Plus, with a title like that, winning would be poetic justice.

Who deserves to win: When the Night Feels My Song, Bedouin Soundclash

 

Michael Bublé. Photo Olaf Hein. Courtesy Warner Music Canada.
Michael Bublé. Photo Olaf Hein. Courtesy Warner Music Canada.

Category: Album of the year

Nominees:
Christmas Songs, Diana Krall
219 Days, Kalan Porter
It’s Time, Michael Bublé
All the Right Reasons, Nickelback
Under the Lights, Rex Goudie

Our take: That Canadian Idol alums Kalan Porter (curly haired mama’s boy) and Rex Goudie (blue-collar Newfoundlander) are squaring off for album of the year (and, below, artist of the year) has less to do with irrepressible talent than our collective yearning for stories; we get so wrapped up in the personal narratives of Canadian Idol contestants, we can’t bear to see them end with the show. While I don’t begrudge their reality-TV successes, Porter’s 219 Days and Goudie’s Under the Lights sound like albums by talent-show heroes: stylistically safe and melodically lightweight. Nickelback’s All the Right Reasons was a sales juggernaut, but the Alberta band’s last three albums are interchangeable; it seems daft to celebrate uniformity.

Which brings us to crossover darlings Diana Krall and Michael Bublé. On the surface, the addition of Krall’s holiday collection seems like a frantic attempt to include Juno royalty. Truth be told, Christmas Songs is a jazz workout that swings with more verve than any of us expected. That said, the seasonal theme is a curse; nobody wants to hear carols after Jan. 1. That leaves Bublé’s It’s Time. An exercise in timeless pop engineering, this mix of standards and originals is plush. Utterly calculated, to be sure, but you can’t contest the guy’s poise.

Who deserves to win: It’s Time, Michael Bublé

 

Category: Artist of the year

Nominees:
Boom Desjardins
Diana Krall
Kalan Porter
Michael Bublé
Rex Goudie

Our take: On TV, Kalan Porter and Rex Goudie were gods. Beyond the circumscribed world of Canadian Idol, however, neither can hope to own a stage like Boom Desjardins, Michael Bublé or Diana Krall. While Francophone balladeer Desjardins can muster plenty of gravitas, there’s also something unintentionally hammy about his shtick. (Maybe it’s the manicured beard.) Bublé has presence, charm and smooth phrasing — he would seem more deserving of the best-artist honour if his sudden popularity didn’t feel so mandated or inevitable. Diana Krall was less visually ubiquitous in ’05 (fewer car adverts), but it was a creatively fertile year: she recast the holiday songbook with Christmas Songs while still plying us with originals from 2004’s fine The Girl in the Other Room.

Who deserves to win: Diana Krall

 

Martha Wainwright. Courtesy Universal Music Canada.
Martha Wainwright. Courtesy Universal Music Canada.

Category: New artist of the year

Nominees:
Daniel Powter
Divine Brown
Jonas
Martha Wainwright
Skye Sweetnam

Our take: Daniel Powter emotes like he’s auditioning for Maroon 5, while Skye Sweetnam harbours none-too-subtle pretensions about being la prochaine Avril Lavigne. The best new artist category should honour originals, not people trying to bite other people’s styles. By my reckoning, there are two gems in this collection: Divine Brown and Martha Wainwright. While Brown’s voice is warm and generous, her songs an impassioned plea for positivity, Wainwright is a more jagged pop heroine, imbuing her dusty ballads with serrated wit. Wainright’s lineage puts her at an advantage (her father is Loudon, her mother Kate McGarrigle, her bro Rufus), but the craft, intelligence and bone-chilling honesty of her self-titled 2005 debut leaves her new artist of the year competitors choking on her grit.

Who deserves to win: Martha Wainwright

 

Category: Rap recording of the year

Nominees:
Boy-Cott-In the Industry, Classified
It’s Called Life, Eternia
Fire and Glory, Kardinal Offishall
The Dusty Foot Philosopher, K’naan
United We Fall, Sweatshop Union

Our take: While there’s estimable talent assembled here, this short list feels padded — a formality rather than a genuine race. Classified, Eternia, Kardinal Offishall and Sweatshop Union all shone in ’05, but K’naan Warsame’s year was nothing short of extraordinary. With the release of his debut album, The Dusty Foot Philosopher, in late June, the Somali-born rapper seemed to emerge as a fully formed star, exhibiting a lyrical prowess, musical intelligence and stage savvy you typically see only in veteran rhymers. His sound — which incorporates African polyrhythms and an assortment of acoustic instruments — suggests he’s itching to expand the bounds of hip hop. Earning a berth in the lineup for Canada’s Live 8 concert was a coup for K’naan’s management, but his (too-brief) performance confirmed K’naan’s ability to rouse a virgin crowd. (Which makes me wonder: why isn’t he competing for new artist of the year?) No insult to K’naan’s fellow nominees, but if any category is a lock, it’s this one.

Who deserves to win: The Dusty Foot Philosopher, K’naan

 

Broken Social Scene. Courtesy Arts & Crafts Productions.
Broken Social Scene. Courtesy Arts & Crafts Productions.

Category: Alternative album of the year

Nominees:
Broken Social Scene, Broken Social Scene
Elevator, Hot Hot Heat
Live It Out, Metric
So Jealous, Tegan & Sara
Twin Cinema, The New Pornographers

Our take: This remains the most electrifying category in the Juno prospectus, thanks to the fact that Canada is punching above its weight in the alt-rock ring. The inclusion of Hot Hot Heat’s Elevator feels like an overextended welcome; the album never catches fire like its Juno-nominated predecessor, Make Up the Breakdown. Metric’s Live It Out is a spirited joust, but can’t equal the tenacity of its heat-seeking first single, Monster Hospital (criminally overlooked for single of the year). Tegan & Sara and the New Pornographers both checked in with robust records in ’05, but neither could match the scale and ambition of Broken Social Scene’s eponymous third outing. A challenging counterpoint to 2003’s Juno-winning You Forgot It in People, the band’s latest is texturally adventurous without losing its pop bearings.

Who deserves to win: Broken Social Scene, Broken Social Scene

Andre Mayer writes about the arts for CBC.ca.

CBC does not endorse and is not responsible for the content of external sites - links will open in new window.

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